Over the years my tastes matured, and it wasn’t long before my desire for ice cream was replaced with an unending hankering for old fashioned loaf sandwiches and cream of chicken soup. What? That wasn’t the preference for every American boy in the 1970s? Well, my soup and sandwich combination was forever supplemented by an unquenchable thirst for baseball knowledge, so while sitting at the kitchen table on Greenwood Avenue with the aforementioned sandwich and soup, I would read copies of old Los Angeles Dodgers yearbooks and programs that were passed along to me by Dad.
As infatuated as I was with Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Russell and the band of Dodger misfits I would suffer with throughout childhood, I would also read through the “record breakers” sections of the yearbooks and feature articles of the opposition in the game programs, and it was from these articles that I developed a sense for and appreciation of baseball history.
One particular face that was staring back at me from the 1975 Dodgers Yearbook was that of a smiling Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In that section of the yearbook and in today’s installment of the Topps 1975 set for Card #3, Gibson was celebrated for striking out his 3,000th batter in his career, in this case if was Cincinnati’s Cesar Geronimo in a game played on July 17, 1974. Gibson would go on to finish his career – 17 seasons, all with the Cardinals – with a total of 3,117 strikeouts, and over the years I came to appreciate what it must have been like to step into the batter’s box to face Gibson.
While he struggled with control early in his career, Gibson was also difficult to hit when he did put the ball over the plate, and once he mastered a slider to go with his fast ball, Gibson became a batter’s nightmare, and you never wanted to dig in against the scowling right hander, as he declared the inside part of the plate his. And while he “only” hit 102 batters with pitches over the course of his career (his contemporary, Don Drysdale hit 52 more batters in 400 fewer innings pitched), hitters were always under the impression that a stinging fastball to the shoulder could be coming at them at any time, so they would back away from the plate just a little bit, giving Gibson an added edge.
A Hall of Famer and the National League’s Cy Young winner and Most Valuable player in 1968, Gibson named the World Series MVP in both 1964 and 1967.
He is pictured here, on card number three of the 1975 Topps set – his final season in the big leagues. Something tells me that Cesar Geronimo would gladly whiff in that famous at bat against Gibson than take one to the ribs. I have a feeling most batters felt the same way.